Bully-boy PM strikes again

Outside of Westminster, if David Cameron called someone a "mug" during a political debate, he'd prob

When the Prime Minister is under pressure, civility is always his first victim. Whether directed at a "frustrated" Nadine Dorries, Angela "calm down, dear" Eagle, or Ed "the mug" Miliband, David Cameron's belittling quips betray an arrogant swagger that outside the world of politics would land him in deep trouble.

The latest instalment of Bully-Boy Cameron's antics at this week's PMQs was swiftly followed by a rebuke from the speaker - Cameron had branded Miliband "a complete mug" for his supposed lack of willingness to see repatriation of powers from Brussels.

For a former PR man Cameron seems to forget that outright name-calling is antithetical to reasoned and constructive debate - it merely contributes to a negative perception of him as as evasive and cavalier.

What Cameron fails to understand is that there is a difference between using pointed sarcasm and intelligent parody to undermine your opponents position and losing your temper and simply blurting out whatever derogatory remarks happen to come into your head. It's a fair bet that if you were taking part in a serious debate and were subjected to a supercilious Cameron wisecrack of the kind witnessed today, then the "discussion" would get ugly fairly quickly.

Not everyone agrees with this assessement. Over on the Spectator's Coffee House blog, Lloyd Evans believes Cameron's "nastiness, his reserves of personal malice -- so clearly part of his character -- helped him out". It's an interesting take and underscores the machismo that has come to characterise PMQs -- Cameron's aggressiveness is seen as positive because it effectively detracts from the more damaging story of his own MPs treachery over Europe

Cameron is notorious for his ability to bat away awkward questions in the House. But rather than reverting to the tactics of the play-ground bully, he would do well to heed the advice of philsopher Jim Rohn when he said:

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.